Thursday, February 14, 2013
2013 ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE UPDATE - WEEK TWO
In week two of the 2013 Legislative Session, the Alabama Legislature continued to focus on its two key agendas: "Efficiency in Government" in the Senate, and the Republican Caucus "We Dare Defend Our Rights" agenda in the House.
In the Senate, after allowing members the weekend to review a series of bills aimed at making government leaner and less costly, the upper chamber approved three bills on Tuesday and began debate on a fourth prior to standing in recess. Included in the efficiency package promoted by President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) was Senate Bill 117, sponsored by Sen. Phil Williams (R-Gadsden). The bill would establish the Alabama Technology Authority to coordinate information technology service for state agencies. The bill was part of a series of recommendations that came out of a report issued in October which found that IT reforms could result in savings ranging from $32 million to $64 million a year. The Authority would resemble the Alabama Supercomputer Authority, which coordinates IT services for public schools and colleges. Shortly after passing SB 117, the Senate passed a second bill that will work in conjunction with the IT bill, setting up the cabinet-level position of Secretary of Technology, and establishing an oversight committee. Along with the IT bills, a third bill on the "Efficiency of Government" agenda, which substantially consolidates law enforcement agencies in Alabama, passed on Tuesday. However, a fourth bill on the agenda which would consolidate various legislative offices (including the Examiners of Public Accounts) appears to have become bogged down the Senate. The Senate adjourned both on Tuesday and Thursday without being able to pass the legislation.
On Thursday, the Senate took another step towards fulfilling a promise made by Governor Bentley and GOP leadership to voters to repay the $437 million taken from the Alabama Trust Fund to help fund Medicaid, prisons and other agencies. The "People's Trust Act", sponsored by House Education Budget Chair Jay Love (R-Montgomery) on Thursday. Although the bill has passed both Houses, because of an amendment introduced by Senator Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) and adopted by the Senate, the bill must return to the House for it to concur in the changes. The amendment added by the Senate purports to automatically appropriate the funds necessary to repay the Trust Fund should the Legislature fail to do so in future years.
On Tuesday, the House continued making progress on their "We Dare Defend Our Rights" agenda by passing the Red Tape Reduction Act by a vote of 92-0. Sponsored by Representative April Weaver (R-Brierfield), HB 101 would require each state agency to prepare a Business Economic Impact Statement prior to taking any regulatory action that might have an adverse impact on businesses. The act also requires agencies to periodically review and eliminate any unneeded or burdensome regulations. This review would provide the Legislature an additional mechanism to protect our state’s economy from needless and damaging bureaucratic initiatives.
One bill of particular note that was introduced this week was the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, HB264 by Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood). This bill, which is designed to make the tax appellate process more efficient and independent, passed the Legislature last year but due to mistakes in transmission was not signed into law. It appears that the version introduced this year is an agreed-to compromise signed off on by Legislative leadership, Governor Bentley's office and business groups.
Finally, on Thursday afternoon, the House passed the hotly contested Education Flexibility Act by a vote of 65-37- a major victory for Speaker Hubbard. Under the bill, school systems could submit proposals to the State Department of Education to obtain waivers from state rules and regulations. Waivers would have to be approved by both local and state boards along with the State Superintendent prior to moving forward. The bill was heavily opposed by the Alabama Education Association, which argued that the bill could be used to, among other things, strip away tenure from teachers. Although opposed by AEA, the bill was supported by nearly every other education group in Alabama, including Alabama Association of School Boards, Alabama State Superintendent Tommy Bice, the Department of Education and others. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate. On Wednesday, a Senate Committee significantly amended the Senate version of the Flex bill, so heavy debate is expected.
The 2013 Regular Session resumes on Tuesday, February 19 when the Senate reconvenes at 10:00 am. The House of Representatives is scheduled to reconvene the same day at 1:00 pm. The Legislature has now used five (5) of the thirty (30) meeting days allowed under the Alabama Constitution. Once again, the Legislature is expected to use two legislative days next week: on Tuesday and Thursday.